My New Favorite Mountain: Part Two

Since I left you hanging in the last post I am sure you are dying to hear how the rest of the climb went, but first, I need to tell you about why Mount St Helens is my new favorite mountain.  On the drive down we were talking about the mountain and it became apparent that Kyle knew next to nothing about the eruption that took place in 1980.  So my mom and I filled him in on all the details, her from her memory and me from my memory of the movie, The Fire Below Us, Remembering Mount St. Helens.

“Were there a lot of glaciers on Helens before the eruption?”

“Yeah, but they all melted and flowed down the mountain in the lahars”

“Except the one that is on the Worm Flows route?”

“There isn’t a glacier on the Worm Flows route…”

“Well, I read somewhere about a glacier on Helens.”

Then my mom piped in: “Yeah, I think it is a new glacier.  I think Helens has one of the newest glaciers in the world!”

I was stubbornly disbelieving so I whipped out my phone and googled it.  Sure enough, Mount St. Helens has the fastest growing newest glacier in the world forming in its crater.  MY MIND EXPLODED.  People, let me tell you about this glacier.

It. Is. So. Cool.

During the eruption the whole North side of the mountain fell away leaving a giant North facing crater.  During the next couple of years we had heavy snow in Washington and snow started to accumulate around the central lava dome which is located in the center of the crater.  During the winter avalanches would rain down more snow into the crater and during the summer rock fall would cover the snow with debris, insulating it from the sun.  Also, thanks to the ridges high above certain parts of the crater get very little sun for most of the year. Due to all of these factors a glacier began to form, unknown to scientists for seven years and the public for almost 20 years.  During 2004 to 2008 there was more volcanic activity, which broke up the smooth ice of the glacier and created crevasses and seracs.  When the glacier first began growing it was gaining 50ft of height a year and advancing 135ft a year.  After the eruptions in 2004-2008 it slowed, now only gaining 15ft per year and advancing 3ft per day.  It has an average thickness of 328ft and maximum depth of 656ft.  It already has more volume than all of Mount St Helens pre-eruption glaciers combined.  The glacier currently completely encircles the lava dome.

Are you currently jumping up and down with wonderment?  Is your heart beating out of your chest with excitement?  Is Mount St Helens your new favorite mountain?  Because it is my new favorite mountain.  In a time when Mount Rainier’s glaciers are melting faster than they are forming Mount St Helens is growing a new glacier.  We are seeing geological history happen before our very eyes, in our life times.  My stoke level for this glacier is through the roof.

Okay.  Now that we are all in awe of Mount St. Helens we can now return back to the story of our climb.  Sunday morning we woke around 5:30am and began to pack up.  Teresa’s broken nose wasn’t hurting her but she now had a black eye as well.  We left camp by 6:45am, and headed up the ridge to the West.  It is hard to write about a climb because really it is just a lot of walking for a long time.  We started in our snow shoes.  Then the snow got firmer so we all took off our snow shoes and skis and kicked steps for about 3,000ft.  The wind was whipping.  It was constantly trying to blow us off the mountain and then you would get used to leaning into it and it would let up for one second and you would almost topple over the other way.  Mark kept pointing to rock outcroppings and saying, “Head over there.”  So Kyle and I would take turns kicking thirty steps at a time until we reached the rock outcropping and beyond that there would be another rock outcropping to reach.

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Thank you ice axe, for keeping me safe.

Finally, around 9:00am, we got to a flat spot with a little less wind and took a lunch break.  I chowed down on a cheesy bagel and begrudgingly shared my peanut butter M&Ms with my mom after she eyed them pointedly.  At this point we could see the ridge line above us.  It was still a long 1,600ft away but it was within view.  The summit was up there somewhere.  When we stood up to get going my mom’s sit pad blew away and she chased after it, finally launching herself onto it, encouraged by our shouting, to stop its fluttering descent down the mountain.  Kyle laughed a little too hard and karma got him back a couple of minutes later when he loosened his grip on his own sit pad and was forced to repeat my mom’s actions.  We put our snow shoes back on because the snow was softening up in the sun and continued up.  Something about this kind of climbing, these long steep snow slopes stretching on forever, trying to look at your feet instead of how far you still have to go, there is something about it that I love. Some part of me never wanted the upward motion to end.  But my legs where ready to be done.  We traversed through a field of snow balls, some as tall as myself, that had fallen off of the ridge above, but we could see that none of them had triggered any slides.  Just above that we gained the ridge itself.

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This is peaceful solitude at its best.

One of the hard things about climbing Helens in the winter and early spring is that there is such a huge cornice you have to stay a good fifteen to thirty feet away from the edge at all times.  This means  you don’t actually get to look down into the crater.  From the true summit we could see Adams, everything to the South and the cliffs of the crater wall across the way.  But we couldn’t see to the North.  We spent very little time on the summit and headed back down to the saddle where my mom had stopped.  Another snack later we packed our snow shoes into our packs and battened down all the straps, preparing for the long glissade ahead of us.  That’s right, another mountain you get to glissade off of.  After giving my mom a quick tutorial on how to use an ice ax to glissade we proceeded to shoot down the snow slopes, descending in a fraction of the time it took us to ascend.  I freaking love glissading.  Towards the bottom the snow started to get too slushy for glissading and we plunge stepped (or heel stepped, as my mom kept calling it) the rest of the way to camp.  Eventually the plunge stepping transitioned into post holing and we put our snow shoes back on and half slid half walked back into camp.  Even though I hated wearing my snow shoes I am thankful to Teresa and Mark for telling us to bring them, it would have been a much more difficult climb without them.

Back in camp we packed up, rejoiced and took swigs of Southern Comfort.  Soon we were heading back down the gully, which seemingly never ended, spurring us into song: “This is the gully that never ends, it goes on and on my friends…”  Kyle was sentenced to hiking in the back because his blue bag was enveloping him in a privy-like stench.  Whenever he got to close to us my mom and I would start to speed up, slipping all over the place, and yelling at him in high pitched voices.  Everyone was delirious with exhaustion and heat, faces wind burt, and throats thirsty.  After an eternity we made it back to the cars.  We got to take off our snow shoes and boots and drive to Centralia where we ate hefty portions of incredible Mexican food at La Tarasca.

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Ah camp, it’s good to be back.

Every time we climb I come back from the mountains exhausted but rejuvenated.  Every time I come back stronger and happier, more sure and excited about the world around me. Every time I come back a little bit changed.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

12 thoughts on “My New Favorite Mountain: Part Two

  1. Looks like an incredible experience, and that is so awesome about the glacier! I hadn’t heard anything about it. I’ve been sorta fascinated about Mt. St Helens my entire life.

  2. That sounded hard work step-kicking for 3000 feet! Don’t you have crampons? I don’t mind step-kicking for a short distance but couldn’t keep it up that long – good job there were a few of you to take it in turns.
    Carol.

    1. Oh yeah, snow was too soft for crampons but not soft enough for snow shoes. And too steep for snow shoes or crampons to be comfortable. I actually love kicking steps. Everyone takes turns and when it’s not your turn you have a perfect staircase of nice small steps! Makes for easy climbing!

      1. It’s probably okay when there’s a few of you – I’m normally on my own though and if I tried to kick steps for 3000 feet, I’d be lying exhausted or dead! 😉

  3. Dear Lindsey. So glad you could experience “the secret gully route” of Mt. St. Helens, with her “not so” baby glacier securely cradled and growing on her north side–right before our very human eyes! Loved our morning summit climb from base camp–before the sun came out and when the morning wind was blowing us sideways. We all–step by step–made our way up to her crater rim, climbing at 1,000 ft. per hour. Loved watching the sun come up in the west and the snow start to sparkle and the wind become warmer. With broken nose, I smile. Mother Nature rules. Love Teresa.

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